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Author

Ryan Smout

Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. David Landy

Abstract

Most everyone knows that Latin is a challenging language to learn. Latin teachers try their best to help their students to understand and appreciate the content and influence of Latin texts. For hundreds of years since the revival of interest in Classical literature, teachers could only rely on traditions to teach their language successfully. Today, however, psychological research into successful educational techniques and language acquisition abounds. But very few studies to date have tested specific features of learning an ancient language, with all the complexity that entails. Consequently, teachers often still rely on tradition and their own experiences to inform their instructional techniques. Different techniques are then employed by different teachers even though one technique may prove to be more beneficial than another.

One example of an approach that varies between teachers is whether students ought to read Latin in the written word order or if they would not be better served by reading according to a “hunt-and-puzzle” strategy, in which a reader ignores the word order and searches for the word needed at any given moment. This debate goes back at least 80 years (Spilman, 1929) and likely more. Proponents of reading in the Latin order, such as McCaffrey (2006) and Cleary (1984), contend that students can never understand the full meaning of a Latin sentence if they ignore the word order. The opposing side, such as Oxley (1949) and many Latin teachers in times of apparent need, suggests that Latin word order obscures the meaning of a sentence, is too opaque for students to understand, makes translation too challenging, and may not even be that important anyway. Although this debate is old, few studies have relied on scientific methods to demonstrate the effects of each reading strategy, particularly in the light of recent advances in technology.

We set out to scientifically establish certain patterns of the way Latinists actually read Latin, regardless of whether they subscribe to one reading strategy or the other. To do so, we recorded the eye movements of a number of Latin teachers and students using sophisticated technological equipment because eye movements reveal a wealth of information about cognitive processes in real time. Once we had learned some things about the way Latin readers actually read, we explored how brief instruction in the two strategies mentioned above impacts reading a language similar to Latin.

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